Many health goals are long term benchmarks such as getting your blood pressure or weight down to a certain number. The good news is that, while it may take a while to reach these goals, there are ways that you can start to improve your health today no matter where you are on your health journey. Every woman has her own approach, and we know that it’s not always easy to take steps for better health, but here are 4 ways to start your journey towards a healthier you.
1. Schedule Your Needed Screenings
Women require unique health screenings at different stages of their lives. Most women will need to begin mammograms to screen for breast cancer at age 40. Your mammograms should be a yearly occurrence until you are at least 55, at which point you may be able to have mammograms every two years. This schedule may change if you have a personal or family history of breast cancer. Speak with your primary care physician or OB-GYN to find out what schedule they recommend in your case.
You should also begin colonoscopy screenings for colon cancer at the age of 50. Depending on the findings, you will likely only need a colonoscopy every five to ten years. Just like with breast cancer, successful treatment of colon cancer largely depends on early detection, so be sure not to neglect your colon cancer screenings. Also, be sure your healthcare providers are aware if you have any family history of colon cancer.
Finally, cervical cancer screenings are also important for women. These screenings are in the form of Pap smears, pelvic exams, and human papillomavirus (HPV) testing. Your OB-GYN will likely perform this screening, but you may also obtain cervical cancer screening from your primary care provider. In general, women need to start cervical cancer screening at age 21.
2. Eat Right
While for the most part men and women have the same healthy eating goals, women do have some unique nutritional needs, for example, needing more of certain vitamins and minerals during pregnancy or after menopause. Then there are other considerations as outlined by the Office on Women’s Health:
Calories. Most times, women need fewer calories. That’s because women naturally have less muscle, more body fat, and are usually smaller. On average, adult women need between 1,600 and 2,400 calories a day. Women who are more physically active may need more calories. Find out how many calories you need each day, based on your age, height, weight, and activity level.
- Vitamins and minerals. Calcium, iron, and folic acid are particularly important for women.
- Reproductive health. Women have different nutritional needs during different stages of life, such as during pregnancy and breastfeeding or after menopause.
- Health problems. Women are more likely to have some health problems related to nutrition, such as celiac disease and lactose intolerance, and vitamin and mineral deficiencies, such as iron-deficiency anemia.
- Metabolism. Women process some substances differently and burn fewer calories at rest and during exercise than men do.
3. Be Active
Women of all ages and abilities benefit from getting active on a daily basis. Ideally, you should perform at least 30 minutes of moderate physical activity every day. This activity can be structured exercise like running or rowing, participation in sports, or even simply walking up flights of stairs. By becoming more active, you help to lower your blood pressure and cholesterol, as well as your risk of dying early. In addition, regular exercise can help you lose weight or keep your weight where it is as you age, improve depression, contribute to better sleep and lower your risk of diseases such as breast cancer, colon cancer, type 2 diabetes, heart disease and stroke.
4. Be Mindful of Both Your Physical and Mental Health
Exercising, eating right and regular health care appointments will put you on the right physical trajectory, but just as important to your overall well-being is your mental health. More than 1 in 5 women in the United States experienced a mental health condition in the past year, such as depression or anxiety.1 Identifying if you have a mental health condition can be difficult given the busy lifestyles of women, but in general, if you’re experiencing a change in your thoughts, behaviors, or moods that is interfering with your work or relationships for longer than 2 weeks, you may have a mental health condition and you should reach out to your doctor or nurse, a mental health professional, or a trusted loved one for help.
The importance of women’s health is a lifelong commitment. For questions or support on your journey, search PACT’s list of Connecticut based, board-certified family medicine and internal medicine specialists here to find a provider for you and/or your family.